A Timeline of Abortion Stories in U.S. Popular Media

This timeline includes short summaries of U.S. TV shows and popular movies which have prominently featured characters with unexpected pregnancies who seriously consider or have an abortion. Here I am only including fictional U.S. and Canadian TV shows and movies with relatively wide releases. Some of these actually don’t quite fit these guidelines but I find them amusing or instructive.

If you see something missing, please leave a comment below and I will add it.


Special thanks to Rebecca Kielty for her many contributions!!! Rebecca also shared the following links: a Wikipedia category page for films about abortion, this 2012 list and article about abortion on TV, “Good Girls Avoid Abortion,” and a TV Tropes page.

1916Where Are My Children?

While prosecuting a physician for the death of a client after an abortion, the district attorney discovers that his wife helped her society friends and the daughter of her maid obtain and pay for abortions from the physician (and was perhaps herself also a client.) Director/writer Lois Weber, made this film as an indictment of abortion, bringing in eugenics and birth control to leave the impression that they are inextricably linked to all abortions. The movie was banned in Pennsylvania on the grounds it would tend to corrupt morals. The National Board of Review passed the film for adults only.

1928The Road to Ruin

A controversial, low-budget drama about the life of a young teenage girl that goes on the “road to ruin.” Sally is a 16-year-old New York City teen who, neglected by her parents, takes up smoking and drinking, engages in affairs with a series of older men, gets arrested by the police during a strip poker game, is sent home only to discover later that she’s pregnant, and after getting an illegal abortion, the words “The Wages of Sin is Death” inexplicably appear over her bed in fire. Then she dies. Her last words are, “It seemed like such a beautiful road…”

1933Ann Vickers

As the Great War breaks out, Ann Vickers, a serious, independent and forthright woman, falls for an officer who jilts her before she can tell him she’s pregnant. After an abortion, she throws herself into social work. This movie is adapted from a novel by Sinclair Lewis!

1934Men in White

A nurse, fearful of telling her colleagues she needs an abortion, goes to a back-alley abortionist and gets a botched abortion. A noble doctor (Clark Gable!) performs an operation on her to save her. The word abortion, in keeping with the times, is not used and is referred to somewhat obliquely.

1934Dr. Monica

An OB/GYN, Dr. Monica (Kay Francis) is creates a series of urban maternity clinics designed by her best friend, and architect (Veree Teasdale). The twist is that of course the doctor can’t have children of her own. Her other best friend (everyone’s rich) is what used to be called an “aviatrix” (Jean Muir). She has an affair w/Monica’s husband (Warren William), gets pregnant. There’s a scene, censored, where she asks Monica for an abortion; Monica’s horrified reaction is left in, so you get the gist. She has the baby (revealing the name of the father during labor, which causes more drama), leaves it for Monica, then gets in her plane and flies out over the Atlantic with only 2-hours fuel in the tank–suicide by airplane. So, Monica and hubby get the baby, and the aviatrix pays for her sins = happy ending… All of this is packed into an hour-long running time. The odd thing is that the film has feminist qualities: The three woman are all professional and accomplished, in contrast to the husband who is a bum of a novelist living off his wife’s wealth and having an affair with her best friend. But the sexual mores of the era demand punishment for the friend, turning the whole thing upside down. (Description provided by Shawn Stone; thanks Shawn!)

1939Modern Motherhood

Molly discovers she is pregnant. She considers getting the child aborted until she visits the local movie house and sees a film about sex hygeine. She is so upset by the movie, particularely an abortion scene, that she decides to keep the child. Returning home to husband Ted, she informs him of her condition. He goes out drinking for several days. Eventually he realizes his place is with his wife and their child. Molly gives birth to a boy, and they live happily ever after.

1951Detective Story

Detective McLeod (Kirk Douglas!) discovers that his sweet wife had a sterility-enducing back-alley abortion years before at the hands of the same slimy miscreant he has been trying to convict and send up the river for good.

1951A Place in the Sun

A young trusting poor factory worker named Alice (Shelley Winters!) wants to have an abortion because her boyfriend George doesn’t want to marry her. The doctor’s advice: “Go home to your mother.” He refuses to provide an abortion and Alice begs George to marry her. George, the main character, murders Alice as part of his plan to move up in society by getting a rich girlfriend (Elizabeth Taylor!). Based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.

1959The Best of Everything

A young woman, one of four main characters, is seduced by a playboy who gets her pregnant. She jumps from a moving car to avoid the abortion she realizes he is about to force on her. She survives, loses the baby, and falls in love with an intern at the hospital.

1960You’re Ruined Me, Eddie!

Rich girl Joan has a secret summer fling with laundry mechanic Eddie, and thinks nothing of revealing to him the fact that he’s gotten her pregnant and she plans on aborting the baby. Eddie pressures Joan to keep the baby, at least so he can start a new family line (he grew up in a repressive orphanage). Joan staunchly refuses despite his declaration of love and need as well as his slapping her around and screaming that she has to marry him! She goes to her rich snobby daddy about the matter. He tries throwing money at Eddie to buy him out, but cash cannot buy Eddie’s affections for his unborn child. Worse, her daddy (and her black maid Mamily) seem to think that abortion is immoral. Crazed with determination to never give birth, Joan grabs her daddy’s pistol and kills Eddie. The End.

1960Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

In Alan Sillitoe’s screenplay adaptation of his own novel, working class playboy Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) gets a married woman, Brenda, pregnant. Illegal abortion is mentioned when Arthur discusses the matter with his aunt, but Brenda ultimately decides to carry the pregnancy to term.


1962The Shame of Patty Smith

It’s a lovely summer evening and young lovers Patty and Alan have a run-in with a trio of young hooligans who rape poor Patty while Alan is held back and forced to watch. Alan calmly drives Patty home, who refuses to go to the police out of embarrassment and terror. To make matters worse, Patty discovers she is pregnant and is forced to ask her friendly roommate Mary for help in obtaining an abortion. We follow Patty as she goes from place to place, seeking help for her problems, but is turned away by doctors and priests before she finally is forced to sell family heirlooms and borrow money to pay for a back-alley abortion organized by sleazy rotund Bruno VeSota. She meets a wife and husband team who are as American as apple pie, running an abortion clinic out of a fitness center with a fake medical license and no knowledge of how to perform the procedure properly.

1963Love With The Proper Stranger

Angie, a sweet salesgirl, gets pregnant after a fling with the scoundrel musician Rocky. He helps her get money for the abortion but when they go to the doctor, he changes his mind and rescues her. A very awkward love story ensues… sort of.

1964Another World (Soap Opera, NBC)

TV’s first abortion story. Pat Matthews is convinced by her playboy boyfriend to get an illegal abortion. She fears it has left her sterile. Upon realizing that he has no intention of marrying her, she murders him in a fit of rage. Ironically, she then marries the lawyer who gets her acquitted and has twins by him.

1964The Pumpkin Eater

Jo has five children and husband number two when she meets writer Jake Armitage. She leaves this husband to marry Jake. A few years and at least one child later, Jo is deeply depressed, and then discovers she is pregnant again, and this time Jake tells her she has to have an abortion and get sterilized. Jo consents to an abortion and sterilization in the belief it will make her marriage happy again, but afterwards things only get worse for her.


Alfie (Michael Caine) is the ultimate Ladykiller. He is wonderfully successful with women. He also rarely gets emotionally involved with them. He has a series of reversals in which his health is threatened, he has a child who is adopted by another man, and gets a married woman pregnant and must procure an abortion for her. The woman is Lily (Vivien Merchant), the dutiful wife of a nervous friend. And it is a mild seduction of Lily one afternoon while he is driving her home that brings Alfie to the grave calamity that lets us sense what a heel he is. Their affair leads to pregnancy and Alfie arranges for her to have an illegal abortion in his apartment. When he returns after the procedure, he is shocked when he sees the baby that has been aborted as well as the toll that abortion has taken on the woman. The abortion is the final element adding to Alfie’s sense that he has once again hurt more than helped as well as missed out on a love relationship he could have had with a child.

1972Maude (Sitcom, CBS)

A 45-year-old primetime main character named Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) finds out she is pregnant and decides to have an abortion. With this episode, Maude became the first primetime show to feature the lead character getting an abortion. This episode caused a wave of controversy. Some CBS affiliates refused to broadcast this two-part episode and many others refused to rerun it. 65 million people tuned in to the second airing of the episode, giving it a 41% market share. Over 24,000 letters of protest were received by CBS. In January 1973, shortly after the November airing of this episode, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. According to Rachel Fudge of Clamor magazine, “Maude’s producers cooked up the abortion storyline in response to a challenge from the group Zero Population Growth, which was sponsoring a $10,000 prize for sitcoms that tackled the issue of population control.”


A musical set in Berlin at the dawn of Hitler in a seedy cabaret. Liza Minelli plays Sally Bowles, a careerist hedonist who wantonly has an abortion despite the protests of suitor Brian. Brian : “You did it, didn’t you?” Sally: “Did what, darling?” Brian : “The abortion. In God’s name, why?” Sally: “One of my whims?” Sally (singing): “Don’t be so British!”

1973All My Children (Soap Opera, ABC)

Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) has daytime TV’s first legal abortion. Her abortion was simply because she didn’t want to have the child. Nothing bad happened to her.

1974Black Christmas

Girls in a sorority house are being brutally murdered by a psychopath. The main character has decided to have an abortion and her weird boyfriend is royally pissed about itand determined to stop her. Meanwhile, the psychopath is torturing her with obscene prank calls taunting her for “killing the baby.” The psychopath kills her. The end.

1976I Want To Keep My Baby

A teenager decided against getting the abortion that her boyfriend is trying to force on her and… well, keeps her baby.

1981The Choice

A social drama by the director of Roots. A college girl finds out she is pregnant and doesn’t know what to do. She turns to her mother for advice, who confides in her daughter her own abortion story. The movie primarily follows the mother’s experiences in a very sympathetic way. At the end, the daughter asks her mother, “If you had to do it all over again, would you make the same choice?” The film ends on a freeze-frame of the mother’s conflicted face.

1982Fast Times at Ridgemont High

A teen comedy about a bunch of teenagers in California. Stacy Hamilton, a main character, loses her virginity to an older man who she briefly dates, and then, months later, has sex with sleazy Mike Damone. When she finds out she is pregnant, they agree she should get an abortion. When he reneges on his promise of money and a ride to the clinic, Stacy’s best friend retaliates by spray-painting the words “Little Prick” all over his car and locker at school. Soon after, Stacy goes on a school field trip to the hospital, where the sight of newborn babies and a dead body makes her vomit. However, by the end of the film, she’s got a nice boyfriend and seems to be overall a happier person.

1982The Facts of Life

Natalie gains notoriety for writing a newspaper article on a classmate’s abortion–a story she completely made up. After fielding calls from outraged parents, the principal threatens Natalie with expulsion unless she reveals her source for the story. Natalie’s dilemma grows when she is approached by a classmate who has indeed had an abortion. In the end, Natalie does not reveal the girl’s identity. She is not expelled, but she is fired from her positon as the school newspaper’s editor.

1985 – Cagney & Lacey (Drama, CBS)

Cagney and Lacey escort a poor Latina to an abortion clinic, as she’s afraid to run the gauntlet of protestors. When the clinic is firebombed and someone dies, it becomes murder. When the baddy is discovered, Lacey points out that since she’s pregnant, attacking her is just like killing a baby. Also, Lacey, talking to her husband in bed, tells of her frightening experience as a teenager seeking an illegal abortion, which led her to fly to Puerto Rico to obtain one legally. This was a controversial episode, not shown by every affiliate.

1985 – Hill Street Blues (Drama, NBC)

An anti-abortion agitator sends a woman into premature labor.

1986The Young & The Restless (Soap Opera, CBS)

Ashley Abbott aborts Victor Newman’s child without telling him. He is furious when he finds out and she later has a mental breakdown.

1986 – Choices

When a man learns that both his wife and his young, unmarried daughter are both pregnant, he is forced to rethink his opposition to abortion in this drama.

1988 Dirty Dancing

A romantic comedy/drama set in summer 1963. Baby, a sheltered Good Girl, is vactioning with her parents in the Catskills. She becomes romantically involved with Johnny, a working class dance instructor, whose dancing partner/ex-girlfriend Penny turns out to be pregnant and broke. Baby pays for Penny’s abortion but the doctor performs such a bad job that Penny almost dies. Baby’s father, a respectable doctor, is disgusted by the whole thing and forbids Baby to see Johnny again.

1989Degrassi High (Teen Drama, CBC Canada)

Erica had her first “serious” boyfriend, and realizes she is pregnant. Erica decides to keep the pregnancy a secret (the only person she tells is her twin sister, Heather). She also decides to have an abortion. Heather disapproves of this, but accompanies her to the abortion clinic in the end, not wanting her to go through it alone. There is an amazing scene of a raging abortion debate in a classroom where Erica sits in silence and misery while her peers yell at each other.

1989thirtysomething (Drama, ABC)

Hope suffers a miscarriage. Nancy, Melissa and Ellyn are all solicitous of Hope, but she’s getting a little tired of all the good intentions. Ellyn remembers the support Hope gave her when she had an abortion. Hope doesn’t like the comparison.

1990China Beach (Drama, NBC)

Holly has had an illegal abortion and as her friends at China Beach try to deal with it, the circumstances that led up to it are gradually revealed. The show’s moral center, leading character Colleen McMurphy, is a staunch Catholic who disapproves of Holly’s actions. Note: this series was set in the Vietnam era.

1990The Suckling

A horror movie in which an aborted fetus, flushed down the toilet of a whorehouse/abortionist house, gets in contact with toxic waste and becomes a monster. The fetus monster kills all the hookers, johns and abortionists. But the fetus monster spares his teenage mother, who was forced and tricked by her asshole boyfriend into having the abortion in the first place (he convinces the abortionist to slip her some drugs and perform the abortion while the girl is passed out). It jumps back into her womb, turning her into a zombie type.

1991Absolute Strangers

A man wants to get an abortion for his wife who is in a coma, fearing that the birth might kill her. A group of pro-life activists try to stop him. Based on a true story.

1992As The World Turns (Soap Opera, CBS)

Career woman Ellie Snyder learns that she is going to have a malformed baby and has an abortion without telling her husband Kirk. Kirk’s reaction, when she tells him, is that he would have wanted the child anyway and he wants to immediately try for another baby. She doesn’t want to have children. This was the end of their marriage.

1992A Private Matter (HBO Original Drama)

A historical drama, based on a true story. Sherri Finkbine, the host of the popular children’s program Romper Room, is pregnant with her fifth child when she finds out that the Thalidomide she has been taking will most likely lead to severe birth defects in her baby. She and her husband arrange to get an abortion (legal under those circumstances, in that state, at that time), but when the press finds out, their private matter becomes a public scandal. Sherri and her husband lose their jobs and no doctor will perform the procedure. They are forced to fly to another country to get the abortion.

1992Melrose Place (Drama, Fox)

Jane learns that she is pregnant, but doesn’t tell Michael because he hadn’t seemed thrilled by the prospect of having kids. She tries to get an abortion secretly, but changes her mind. Michael is furious at Jane for keeping him in the dark, until the joy over their child brings them back together.

1994Beverly Hills, 90210 (Teen Drama, Fox)

Jesse breaks up with Andrea after she shares her plans to have an abortion. He later reconsiders, and Andrea reveals that she has decided to have the baby. They announce their engagement, much to the surprise of their friends. Happiness ensues.

1994Roseanne: “Thanksgiving ’94” (S7 E10)

Roseanne gets an amnio at her local clinic, after which she tricks some anti-abortion protestors outside into leaving the property. Thanksgiving at her house gets rough when a call from the clinic hints that something is wrong with the pregnancy, and Roseanne and Dan fight over whether to carry to term if there is a problem. Dan says they agreed previously that they could try again, Roseanne is unsure she could go through with an abortion. Nana Mary casually shares that she had two abortions, which Beverly finds horrifying. Roseanne snaps that maybe if Bev had had an abortion with her or Jackie she would have been happier and not entered a loveless marriage, while Bev snaps back that it was the right thing to do.

1995All My Children (Soap Opera, ABC)

Julia Santos is raped, gets pregnant and has an abortion, despite the protests of many.

1996If These Walls Could Talk (HBO Original Drama)

A trilogy of stories set in the same house, but with different occupants and spanning over 40 years, deals with various women and moral crisis over unexpected pregnancies and their choice of abortion. In 1952, when abortion was illegal, a nurse deals with her unexpected pregnancy and takes drastic measures to get one. In 1974 a family housewife with four children discovers that she’s pregnant and decides she can’t handle another child to raise. In 1996, a pregnant college student decides on an abortion, but doesn’t realize the means to go through to get one. An absolutely gripping but horribly depressing movie.

1996Beverly Hills, 90210 (Drama, Fox)

Susan is nominated for a college journalism award for her story about a girl’s decision to have an abortion. Brandon does not understand why Jonathan insists on flying in for the awards ceremony. Susan explains that she and Jonathan broke up over a difference of opinion regarding the story; this further confuses Brandon. Susan wins the award and bursts into tears during her speech. She confesses to Brandon that the story was about herself; devastated by her sister’s death, she had a drunken encounter with Jonathan and wound up pregnant. Jonathan proposed to her, and was crushed when she chose to terminate the pregnancy. Jonathan offers Susan his forgiveness, although she still has doubts about her decision.

1996Party of Five (Season 2, Episode 18) (Drama, FOX)

Julia is pregnant. She’s not sure if she wants to have an abortion. Charlie finds her pregnancy test in the trash and talks to her. She wonders what will be like to have that baby, and Charlie opens her eyes on everything she would be giving up. He confesses to her that when he was in college one of his girlfriends got pregnant and had an abortion. Julia feels awful and so does Justin. They have a fight because he will get over it soon, but she has to carry this fact for the rest of her life. Claudia finds out and gets shocked. Bailey and Sarah plan on sleeping together, but she makes it too special. Bailey asks her to make it simple, but Julia’s news scares them. Julia tries to talk with Sarah about her pregnancy, but Sarah says that if her mom decided to have an abortion, she wouldn’t be there. Julia has a miscarriage. Claudia apologizes to Julia and Julia tells Charlie that he’s a good brother.

1996Citizen Ruth

Ruth Stoops is a poor indigent drug-user (Laura Dern) whose down and out existence is complicated once more by becoming pregnant (she has had and had to give up four children already). When a judge orders that she gets an abortion or face a felony charge, she is befriended by Gail Stoney, a pro-lifer whose husband is president of the local “Babysavers” group. Suddenly Ruth is thrust into the middle of the pro-choice/pro-life struggle, with each side wanting her to take their side as a “message.” Eventually she has a painful miscarriage all alone while the heavily-publicized fight continues outside her window.

1999Felicity (Drama, WB)

Ruby learns that she is indeed pregnant, and plans to have an abortion. Ben finds out what is going on when he processes Ruby’s file. He tries to see Noel and tell him that he has been in a similar situation, but Noel just orders him to butt out. Felicity doesn’t know what to say when she sees Noel in the clinic’s waiting room. Ruby cannot go through with the abortion, and runs out in tears. She decides to have the baby and raise it herself. Noel is terrified by the prospect of fatherhood. A panicked Noel distances himself from Ruby. Ben tells Noel that he got a girl pregnant in high school, but didn’t come through when she needed him. He urges Noel not to do anything that he will regret. Noel decides to take an active role in his child’s life. The ultrasound reveals that Ruby is eight weeks pregnant; Noel realizes that he could not have been the father. Ruby confesses that she slept with a producer while she was away in Los Angeles working on the movie.

1999The Cider House Rules

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), an innocent young man, grows up in an orphanage whose proprietor, Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) also performs abortions. Homer, who is disgusted by Larch’s willingness to perform abortions, leaves the orphanage to strike out on his own. He falls in love with a promiscuous beauty he meets when Dr. Larch performs her abortion. He befriends a black farmworker (Erykah Badu) whose father has impregnated her. In desperation, she tries to run away. Homer performs his first abortion on her, understanding for the first time that, as someone who can, he must.

2000Dawson’s Creek (Teen Drama, WB)

Dawson’s mom, Gail, is pregnant and Dawson is devastated when she tells him that she has decided to have an abortion. Gail’s husband, Mitch, is similarly distressed but explains to Dawson that it is her choice. Dawson turns to his new girlfriend Gretchen, an older college girl, for advice. Gretchen shares her own unwanted pregnancy story, which might have ended in abortion if she hadn’t had a miscarriage. A heartfelt speech from Dawson about what a great mom she is makes Gail change her mind and a big celebration is had in expectation of the new baby.


A convicted bank robber breaks free as he is being transported to prison after learning that his daughter has been killed by a serial killer. He quickly discovers that his daughter had recently had an abortion, an action common to all of the murdered women. He discovers that the killer is a nurse at an abortion clinic who performs bizarre rituals with the fetuses.

2000Third Watch (Drama, NBC)

While Faith Yokas tracks a serial rapist, she considers getting an abortion because her family can’t afford to have another baby. When the rapist turns on her during a chase and hits her with a pipe, she lies to everyone, including her husband, that she miscarried and she gets the abortion. Bosco gets upset about Nicole’s past and how many men she’s slept with, and ruins their relationship.

2000 Our Song

Three high school friends and Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band members in Crown Heights, Brooklyn are faced with separation after learning their school will close due to asbestos contamination. They talk about their goals, families, and relationships while debating whether they’ll stay in touch at different high schools. Maria (Melissa Martinez) is pregnant and decides to carry to term, after discussing the pregnancy with Lanisha (Kerry Washington). Later, the audience learns that Lanisha had an abortion. She had her mother’s support but kept the abortion a secret from her friends.

2001 Sex and the City (Sitcom, HBO)

While Charlotte is frustrated that she’s can’t get pregnant despite her efforts with Trey, Miranda has the exact opposite problem: her lazy ovary combined with ex-boyfriend Steve’s lonely ball somehow managed to get her pregnant in what Samantha called “a mercy fuck” (“he only had one ball”, Miranda justifies). Although she’s decided to have an abortion, she doesn’t want to tell Steve. Carrie thinks she should, despite never having told a waiter from The Saloon that she got an abortion herself after a drunk one night stand over a decade ago. In the waiting room of the abortion clinic, Miranda reconsiders her position as she wonder when she’ll ever find time and chances to get pregnant again; she decides to keep it, much to the joy of her friends.

2001Baby Boy

The film’s initial scene: 20-year-old protagonist Jody (singer-model-VJ-first-time-actor Tyrese Gibson) is inside a womb, where he’s imagining himself curled up and fetal. But instead of feeling protected, he’s about to be aborted. You hear the blood pumping, medical machines beeping, and then a woman crying, “I don’t want to kill my baby.” The scene cuts to Jody, eating candy and waiting on the sidewalk outside a clinic. His girlfriend Yvette emerges, distraught after her abortion. The film primarily deals with Jody’s coming of age to become… A Man.

2002Six Feet Under (Drama, HBO)

Nate Fisher (engaged at the time) confronts an old flame (Lisa) who tells him she’s pregnant with his child and that she’s choosing to have the baby. Keeping with the show’s habit of employing ghostly visions and apparitions, we later see Nate working late in his office. A little girl enters, about seven years old. “Hi,” she says. “You killed me. It was about seven years ago, remember? You drove Lisa to have me killed. Nate looks up, horrified. “Oh, don’t get me wrong,” she says, “I don’t harbor any bad feelings or anything. I’m pro-choice. Well, at least I would be, if I were alive.” A little boy enters. “You killed me, too! Actually, I was miscarried by the girl who worked at that Starbucks on Fremont. I don’t think she was ever planning to tell you about me.” The little girl then takes Nate by the hand, and the two enter the Fisher living room. It’s filled with a dozen or so other kids he fathered that were either aborted or miscarried. His mother (Ruth) then enters with a tray of cookies and milk, beaming first at Nate, then at the houseful of grandchildren she’s always wanted.

2003Everwood (Drama, WB)

Dr. Brown faces one of the toughest moral decisions of his career when a distraught pregnant teenager (guest star Kate Mara) and her father (guest star Kevin Tighe) come to him for guidance about terminating her pregnancy. Dr. Brown refuses to perform the abortion and refers her to a different doctor, who hates abortions but who promised his father he would never allow women to suffer as they did in pre-Roe times. The girl expresses absolute certainty about her decision but is traumatized by th experience. The episode ends with the abortion doctor going to Confession to ask forgiveness for his sins. When The WB first aired this episode’s trailer, it was labeled Viewer Discretion Advised. The plot of this episode was part of a National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Due to this episode having a strong subject matter, the WB decided not to re-run the episode.

2003Six Feet Under (Drama, HBO)

Claire, a freshman art major in college, realizes she is pregnant by her most-likely-gay ex-boyfriend. She is matter of fact about getting the abortion, but tells only one person because she needs a ride. The clinic scenes are very cold and detached. In the next episode, though, she hallucinates that she meets her aborted fetus manifested as a really cute infant. In yet another episode, she finally tells the ex-boyfriend, who is infuriated that she didn’t tell him and bursts into hysterics.

2003American Dreams (Drama, NBC)

Helen Pryor discovers that a friend has had an abortion. After the conversation turns to Roman Catholic doctrine regarding the preborn, her friend implies that such edicts are merely rules made up by men who don’t understand. Helen will have none of that. She insists that abortion is “murder”; she doesn’t say this because the Pope says so but because she believes it to be true. Set in the 1960s.

2003Kill Bill: Vol 1

When the bride awakes from a coma in a hospital bed, she finds to her horror that her pregnancy has been removed by her attackers.

2004Degrassi: The Next Generation (Teen Drama, CTV Canada)

There’s a big gymnastics meet at Degrassi, and Manny’s going to lead the team to gold! But when she starts to feel sick, she fears that her queasy stomach might be more than the flu or even a case of bad nerves. And she’s suddenly not sure she and Craig used protection when they had sex. Not knowing where to turn (it’s sure not going to be her strict mom), Manny turns to Emma’s mom Spike, the one person she knows who’s been in her shoes. When Manny’s worst fears are realized, she finds support from Spike, Emma and even Craig, who takes the news surprisingly well. Manny’s tempted by the romantic family scenario Craig paints and begins to think she and Craig really could keep this baby. Even Ashley shares the news with the entire cafeteria. But after she and Craig fail miserably at taking care of Baby Jack, Manny has to confront the reality of being a mother at her age. She can’t do this! But can she carry the baby full-term and give it up for adoption? She has the abortion. This episode did not air in the US.

2004The O.C. (Drama, WB)

Ryan Atwood finds out his (working class waitress) ex-girlfriend Theresa is pregnant and that it is most likely his child. This causes some problems with his new (wealthy and mannered) girlfriend Marisa. Theresa tells Ryan she will have an abortion, which makes him sad. After talking to Ryan’s mother, though, Theresa changes her mind and decides to keep the baby. (It is insinuated that Ryan’s mother has had an abortion that she regrets.) This also makes Ryan sad, since he will have to leave his fabulous life in the O.C. beach community he has come to call home to get a job and take care of his baby. He moves in with Theresa reluctantly. Theresa pretends to have a miscarriage to “free” Ryan of his responsibility to her and return to the O.C. just in time for the next season to start. The still-pregnant Theresa at that point disappears from the show forever. NOTE: The word “abortion” is never used.

2004The Days of Our Lives (Soap Opera, NBC)

Mimi decides to have an abortion after becoming pregnant with Rex’s child on the basis that Rex would not want a child due to the couple’s poor financial status. The truth was kept from Rex for many months. Meanwhile Jan found out about the abortion and blackmailed Mimi, culminating in Mimi accidentally putting Jan into a coma, then pleading guilty so she would received a lengthy jail term and never have to face Rex again. Ultimately Mimi was released from jail when it was proven that Jan’s coma was an accident, but Belle revealed to Rex the truth about Mimi’s abortion and Rex dumped Mimi as a result of her lies. Many fans complained that rather than using the storyline as a discussion on the pros or cons of abortion, viewers watched as Mimi was ‘punished’ for her choice by developing an infection (pelvic-inflammatory disease) which rendered her barren and losing Rex’s love.

2004 Vera Drake

Vera Drake is a working-class, practically selfless mother in 1950s England who is swept into the public controversy over abortion because she performs the procedure for the desperate lot that come to her. A British film nominated for many Oscars. While impressed by the film’s portrayal of the post-war nation, Jennifer Worth criticized director Mike Leigh’s over-simplification of illegal abortion. Worth was a midwife in Britain from 1953-73, and saw the often fatal effects of practices like those used by Leigh’s heroine. The danger in such a sympathetic interpretation, Worth argued, is that painting illegal evacuations of the uterus as safe (Drake assures a woman that after flushing her uterus with a mixture of household chemicals, she may feel uncomfortable but in a couple of days will bleed and “it will all come away”) erases the true history and horror of non-medical attempts at abortion. Worth’s book Call the Midwife inspired the BBC series of the same name.

2004Alfie (remake)

Jude Law updates Michael Caine’s famous cad, engaging in a drunken night with his best friend/co-worker’s girlfriend Lonette during a temporary split. While Lonette and Marlon quickly reconcile, Lonette soon finds out she is pregnant, goes to a clinic for an abortion, and moves away with Marlon. Later, however, Alfie finds out that Lonette did not have the abortion and visits the couple and the infant. This replaces Caine’s illegal abortion scene, where Caine sees the aborted remains.  Marlon’s discovery of the infidelity spells the end of this Alfie’s closest friendship, but no abortion, legal or otherwise, takes place.

2004South Park (Comedy/Animation, Comedy Central)

In a Christmas story written by Cartman, Stan helps little woodland creatures build a manger for the birth of their savior. When it turns out that their “lord” is the Dark Lord, there is only one solution… Stan and his little mountain lion cubs must learn to peform abortions before the evil is born. They arrive too late, and the Dark Lord possesses Kyle. Stan and the cubs are still able to perform an abortion on Kyle, saving the world from evil and everyone lives happily ever after (except for Kyle, who dies of AIDS two weeks later.)

2004House, MD: “Babies and Bathwater” (S1 E18)

Pregnant woman denies chemo on the grounds that early C-section delivery of her son will leave him only a one in five chance of survival. Viewers learn she has miscarried three times and at 39 used in vitro to achieve her current pregnancy. The story turns into a tug of war between the patient who prioritizes the survival of her son and her husband and House who prioritize her as the patient. Later learn (away from husband) that patient was previously a married mother by 18 and saw that child die of infantile Alexander disease. Chosen because it deals with pregnancy decisions in cases where a choice between mother and child’s life is contested.

2004House, MD: “Kids” (S1 E19)

12 year old pregnant, has abortion. In this episode, there is no conflict over or time spent portraying the abortion. The action is concentrated in diagnosing the girl, who as a traveling diving star had sex (with a guy who “turned out to be a jerk”) and got pregnant during one of many unsupervised swim meet road trips. Watching the girl tell her parents, viewers see the warm exchange of reassurances noiselessly through a glass door.

2005Jack & Bobby (Teen Drama, WB)

Missy and Jack go to the school nurse and find out she’s pregnant. They eventually tell both their parents and they meet up at the Belknap house to discuss the matter, but does not go well at all with her father, Rev. Belknap threatening to disown her if she has a child out of wedlock leaving Missy frightened and alone. She eventually goes to an unlikely person, Grace, and both go together to a clinic for a “procedure.” Missy dies in a car accident the very next episode.

2005Coach Carter

Samuel Jackson plays a tough basketball coach in an inner-city high school. One of his players’ girlfriend gets pregnant and things look bad for his chances at college. The boy finagles a scholarship and financial support so that he can go to college and still have the child with her. But the girlfriend informs him that she already had an abortion. He is initially upset by her making the decision without him but their relationship survives.

2005-6Grey’s Anatomy (Drama/Comedy, ABC)

Tough broad and killer surgeon Christina Yang gets pregnant during an illicit affair with her boss. She schedules an abortion, annoyed by the insistence that she needs “counseling.” She also keeps the pregnancy a secret from the father. That’s the end of season 1; quite a cliffhanger. Buuuut then, in season 2, it turns out she’s got an ectopic pregnancy and she loses the baby.

2006Battlestar Galactica

A teenage girl from the very religious colony of Gemenon escapes to the Battlestar Galactica in search of a doctor that will perform an abortion. Her escape becomes a huge news story as her parents and political leaders on Gemenon demand that the girl be returned. She seeks asylum on the Battlestar Galactica and the political leaders of Gemenon threaten to pull their support form the new president of the colonies unless the girl is returned. President Laura Roslin, a longtime defended of reproductive rights, is faced with the decision of making abortion illegal to preserve the remainder of the human race after they were attacked by their cylon enemy. She ultimately decides to make abortion illegal but not until after she allows the young girl access to one. (Thanks, Ashley, for the description!)


An international soccer star is on his way to sign a multi-million dollar contract kills a child with his car. A waitress, struggling to make it in New York City, discovers she’s pregnant. Once a famous athlete, and now a cook at his brother’s Mexican restaurant, José has retreated from the world but he recognizes something in Nina, a young waitress, and reaches out to her. He confronts his past and talks her out of aborting. He adopts her child.

2006Masters of Horror: “Pro-life” (S2, E5: Original Air Date—14 November 2006)

Determined to rescue his pregnant daughter from an abortion clinic, a religious fanatic and his sons plan a violent firearm assault just as the doctors suspect her pregnancy might not be of this world. Baby turns out to be a demon.

2007It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby” (S3 E1)

Mac and Dee embark on raising a baby found in a dumpster, while Charlie finds out that Frank is his father. This comes out of the revelation that Frank slept with Charlie’s mother, who tells Charlie that even though Frank took her to “one of those underground clinics” for an abortion (because it was cheapest), the abortion “didn’t take!” Charlie survived the abortion, to his mother’s delight. She kept the secret from Frank since “he was married…he would have made me throw you in a DUMPSTER [thunderclap]”.

2007House, MD: “One day, one room” (S3 E12)

Young woman who is anti-abortion was raped and impregnated, but ends up having abortion at end. Most of the episode is taken up by House arguing for the woman to abort while mocking her faith, while she snaps back at him with defenses of her belief that her rape and pregnancy could be a test from God that was meant to happen. The fact that she chooses abortion is given brief mention in closing scenes between House and Cuddy.

2007Knocked Up

When Alison, an incredibly hot and wicked successful woman, gets pregnant after a one-time thing with a loser pothead, it turns into an opportunity to fall in love with said loser. Doesn’t sound awesome, but they make it look pretty good. Abortion is not mentioned by name, though “shmashmortion” is, by one of the pothead loser’s friends as the “duh obvious” choice.


Jenna, a preternaturally gifted pie maker discovers that she is pregnant, the father being her abusive husband. She and her friends Dawn and Becky wait outside the diner where they all work discussing Jenna’s new problem. Dawn brings it up hesitatingly: “have you thought about…the other thing?” Becky and Jenna react with shock and horror. Jenna immediately assures them that she will have the baby–despite the fact that she hates the thing, and for the rest of the movie, writes it letters which blame it for ruining her life. By the end of the movie, her pregnancy has given her the strength to become an independent, self-reliant woman, and she sloughs off both her husband and her OB/GYN lover. (Description borrowed from Evan Davis; I can’t seem to want to watch this movie.)


Wise-cracking hipster teenager gets pregnant after a one-time thing with her dorky best friend. She briefly considers an abortion but after the pierced weirdo working at the clinic talks about boysenberry condoms a little too much, and then an Asian classmate informs her that her baby already has fingernails, our perky heroine just as quickly and painlessly decides to have the baby and give it to a “perfect” family instead. Don’t worry; Juno’s teen pregnancy is super great and everyone is happy.

20074 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

(Foreign movie) Drama about a woman who assists her friend to arrange an illegal abortion in 1980’s Romania. G?bi?a’s pregnancy is far along enough that she is beginning to show. The abortionist Otilia finds scoffs at the money the girls have gathered based on word of mouth quotes for the procedure- don’t they know what personal risk he is taking by doing this? He demands sex with both women in the hotel room where they meet. They eventually agree in exchange for the abortion. Otilia steps out to visit with her boyfriend Adi’s family- sits through their jovial small talk, then argues privately with Adi about what he would do if she got pregnant (accusing him of not being careful when they have sex). Adi, baffled, assures her he would marry her. Otilia returns to the hotel room where the abortionist advises disposing of the fetus in a garbage chute, but warns the women to chop it into small pieces so that it does not cause a blockage. After Otilia gets rid of the remains, G?bi?a sharply informs her they will never speak of this again. End of film.

2007 Army Wives

Was prepped for abortion, changes her mind.

2007House, MD: “Fetal Position”

A photographer is told her life depends on terminating her pregnancy. However, Cuddy sympathizes with the single woman who is around her age and wants so desperately to be a mother. Cuddy and House tousle for control over the case, till eventually House agrees to perform surgery with the fetus in the womb. During the procedure House’s finger touches a tiny hand reaching up out of the incision, and at the episode’s close is seen lying on his couch touching his finger and looking thoughtful.

2008Secret Life of An American Teenager

Goes to abortion clinic, but doesn’t go through with it. ABC Family.

2008House, MD: “Dying Changes Everything” (S5 E1)

Women’s Majority employee has an abortion; after the team approach her with the suggestion that her pregnancy be terminated so that she can receive treatment, the woman matter-of-factly agrees stating that although she “has needs”, child-rearing is not one of them and would not fit her life now as an assistant to a Women’s Majority leader. The abortion goes ahead but her diagnosis changes to not include the need for treatment that caused doctors to suggest the termination. The woman is also presented as a party-line underling.

2008Breaking Dawn (Book)

Bella and Edward marry and get pregnant. Everybody freaks out. Bella risks her own life to keep and birth her baby, but gets turned into a vampire just in time to avoid death during labor. (*See 2011 movie summary for detail/comparison of book to film).

2009Defying Gravity (ABC)

Set in year 2052, abortion and pregnancy tests are illegal. Woman on show procures illegal abortion. Scientist does research on rabbit embryos.

2010Friday Night Lights: “I Can’t” (S04, E10, NBC)

Becky decides to have an abortion. Luke assures her she has his support but Becky looks to Tim Riggins for support. Riggins takes her to Tami and leaves them to talk, and Becky listens to Tami’s description of her options before underlining that she wants an abortion. When Becky talks to her mother Cheryl, Cheryl explodes but the two later go for an appointment at a clinic. There, Cheryl cuts off an employee listing options saying they’re here for an abortion, to which the employee replies he is required by the state to list the options. Cheryl and Becky argue outside after Cheryl rants about staff in the clinic thinking she and Becky were “trash” coming in to get a teenager an abortion. Becky shows up at Tami’s house late at night and explains that she does not want to have a son or daughter and resent them. The implication is that Cheryl resented Becky after deciding to carry and raise her. Luke calls Becky with suggestions of a family future together, buoyed by confessing the pregnancy to his Christian parents, and Becky explains that she has made a decision already and will see him at school.

2010 – MacGruber

MacGruber, a Saturday Night Live spin on MacGyver, comes out of retirement to save the United States. The movie follows MacGruber’s team while they hunt his nemesis Cunth. MacGruber tells sidekick Piper that he and Cunth were friends until he eloped with Cunth’s fiancee Casey, who was pregnant with Cunth’s child. He explains that he and Casey agreed she should get an abortion “so we could start fresh.” He shakes his head and adds, “we were so in love”. A flippant mention of abortion, one for comedic effect- but one which stands out considering controversy generated by abortion storylines in dramas.

2010 Sons of Anarchy “Lochán Mór”, “Turas” (S03, E08 & 09, FX)

E08: “Lochán Mór”

Lyla asks Tara where to get an abortion that will take cash and not record her visit. Tara asks her boss Margaret, who very obviously assumes Tara means herself when she says she’s asking “for a friend.” Tara is pregnant by Jax, but their relationship has broken down as Jax tries to distance Tara from the illegal activities of SAMCRO [Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original]. Tara takes Lyla to an abortion clinic, and while Lyla goes in, Tara makes appointment for herself.

E09: “Turas”

Tara and Margaret make amends and travel to the abortion clinic for Tara’s appointment, but are kidnapped by Hector Salazar en route.

By season four, Tara is rescued and decides to carry the pregnancy to term. She reconnects with Jax and gives birth to her son Thomas.

2011American Horror Story: “Murder House” (S1: Murder House E3, FX)

Ben’s ex-lover Hayden shows up at the house, saying she did not have an abortion and is carrying his child. Ben says he can have nothing to do with her or the child, which infuriates Hayden.

2011American Horror Story: “Halloween 1” (S1: Murder House E4, FX)

Tate tells Violet how the house’s original owners, Dr. Charles and Nora Montgomery, organized illegal abortions in their basement for money. One customer’s boyfriend avenged himself by kidnapping the couple’s infant son and returning him in pieces. While Nora mourned, her husband became obsessed with reanimating the dead child by sewing him back up in various combinations. Tate says the result became a ghost who haunts the house.


Superhuman child (Saoirsie Ronan) leaves the father figure who raised her in isolation to discover her origins. Hanna’s father (Eric Bana) reveals that he met her mother (who died shortly after Hanna was born) at an abortion clinic where he convinced her to participate in an experiment to treat pregnant women to breed children without fear. Since Hanna’s birth, the project’s leader Marissa (Cate Blanchett) has been killing off anyone left over from the experiment.

2011The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (Movie Adaptation)

Bella gets pregnant on her honeymoon, everyone freaks out because vampires don’t make babies. Through the movie there are high tension moments where Bella defends her decision to keep the child despite the fact that her experience is unheard of and gradually appears to be compromising her health. Both sex and birth are portrayed, but not as graphically and violently as described in the book Breaking Dawn (2008). The discussion of the pregnancy in both book and film adaptation involves phrases like “that thing” and “take care of it” implying an assumption that Bella should choose abortion when the upshot of carrying to term appears to be the baby CHEWING ITS WAY OUT of her body. But none of the risks dissuade the recent high school graduate from her conviction to give birth. And as mentioned above, she turns into a vampire to spend the rest of forever with her husband. Which is what she wanted anyway. According to Dorothy Pomerantz (Forbes, 2012), the previous year saw author Stephanie Meyer earn $14 million, and the Twilight films were estimated to have earned $2.5 billion in box office sales worldwide.

2012American Horror Story: “Coat Hanger” (S2: Asylum E9, FX)

Lana and Kit plan to kill trapped Dr. Thredson after obtaining a confession from him about the women he has killed and skinned as serial killer Bloody Face. Lana gets the confession by threatening to self abort with a wire coat hanger, revealing that she is pregnant after Thredson raped her. His desire to keep his child draws out a confession, after which Lana tosses in that she already aborted in her cell. Possessed Sister Eunice later tells Lana the coat hanger abortion failed, she is still pregnant, and the child is a boy.

2012Girls: “Vagina Panic” (S1 E2, HBO)

Jessa schedules an abortion, but gets to avoid it as it turns out she’s not pregnant.


Alien prequel; archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers, despite being convinced she is infertile, that she is 3 months pregnant with an alien child after sex 10 hours previously with an infected crewmate. Despite insisting the android David (Michael Fassbender) help her terminate, he refuses due to an ulterior motive to breed the alien. Her solution is to GET HERSELF IN A ROBOTIC MEDPOD AND CUT OUT THE TENTACLED ALIEN FETUS. She requests a caesarian from the medpod, but it was designed for men, so instead opts for abdominal removal of a foreign object. Later she uses her child (which survived and grew) in self defense, and flees the scene without it. Shaw’s decisions are viewed as survival against the alien (David: “didn’t think you had it in you…sorry- poor choice of words”), compared to Bella’s anthropomorphic vampire/human pregnancy dilemma in Breaking Dawn. Themes of creation and curiosity over origins motivated the expedition, and resurface when we learn about Shaw’s infertility (disappointed with inconclusive findings after landing, Shaw’s lover insensitively quips- “what we do know…there is nothing special, about the creation of life”), and the question of why humans were created if only to be destroyed.

2013Orange is the New Black: “Bora Bora Bora” (S1 E10, Netflix)

Discovering that Daya is pregnant by him, Bennett freaks out about not being told, and about the fact that she wants to carry to term. He seems taken aback by the idea that abortion was not Daya’s solution to a pregnancy in prison with a prison guard. His given reasons are personal- that he would lose his job and be jailed as a sex offender. Then Daya’s mother Aleida shows up, argues, and tells Bennett, “you’ve got nine months” to figure out how to help raise his child.

2013House of Cards: “Chapter 13” (S1 E13, Netflix)

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) tells her doctor that she has had three abortions. The revelation comes up while Claire is apparently asking what her chances of conceiving are. The doctor says her age and abortions could make it difficult, but that there is a possibility. This is a simmering head to tensions all season over what Claire and her husband Chief Whip Francis Underwood have given up for each other’s careers. Earlier in this episode we also see Claire with the young affiliate entrepreneur she fired who is suing for wrongful termination of employment due to pregnancy. During an argument, she places Claire’s hand on her visibly pregnant belly. This and a nightmare Claire describes to her husband where she watches dead Peter Russo’s children snatched by vines culminate in the audience realizing that Claire, if not Francis, is considering whether children were missing from her life. By the episode’s end, Francis has been offered the Vice Presidency and Claire, instead of mentioning the doctor’s appointment, suggests he go for a run with her.

2013 – Rita “The Grown Up”, “And Baby Makes Three” (S02, E01 & 03, Netflix)

E01: “The Grown Up”

Rita decides to have an abortion after becoming pregnant with her ex-boyfriend Tom. Tom and Rita rekindled their romance when Rita’s son Ricco started dating Tom’s daughter Bitten. Both families meet in the hospital when Bitten and Ricco’s son Gustav is born, and Rita explains her decision to have an abortion to Tom while they’re alone together outside the maternity ward. She then takes a prescribed mifepristone pill in her bathroom at home.

E03: “And Baby Makes Three”

Rita’s fifteen year old student Emma comes to school excited about being pregnant, talking about how she can’t wait to be a mom. Rita assumed Emma would want an abortion and is frustrated and confused as Emma insists she wants to raise her child. When it becomes clear that the father does not want to be a part of the pregnancy, Emma tells Rita it is her choice anyway so it doesn’t matter what he thinks. Tom and Rita meet up and Rita asks his forgiveness for aborting their child. He refuses. So Rita writes him a letter explaining that it was a hard choice, but the right one, and that it fell to her to make it for both their sakes. After a babysitting visit with Gustav, intended to show how difficult childcare is, Emma remains determined until she sees Bitten and Gustav with Ricco. The next day after class, Emma cries and asks Rita if not having the baby will mean she is weak, admitting that she wants a family but perhaps not now. Rita comforts her and says it is a hard decision and reassures Emma about making it for herself and the father.

2013 Parenthood “Small Victories” (S04, E13, NBC)

Drew’s girlfriend Amy reveals that she is pregnant and wants an abortion. Neither tells their parents, in Amy’s case because her parents, particularly her father, would be disappointed. Amy is terse with Drew, accepting his help but clear that they are not going to be a couple. She gets an appointment the day after her initial consultation, and asks Drew to help with the money for the abortion (which Drew gets from his older sister Amber, who is the only person he confides in about the pregnancy). While Drew takes Amy to Planned Parenthood appointments and states that he supports her decisions, the episode closes with Drew going to his mother Sarah and crying. The scenario is unique as it includes a supportive teenage boyfriend, Planned Parenthood workers offering descriptions of all Amy’s options, and a teenager deciding that abortion is the best decision for her and hers to make. But the storyline cuts no corners on the emotions involved, including sexually active minors maneuvering reproductive healthcare access, and Drew’s as a partner in a terminated pregnancy.

2014Obvious Child

Indie film directed by Gillian Robespierre and starring Jenny Slate. Description needed…

2015 Bitten “Scavenger’s Daughter” (S02, E09, SyFy)

Rachel lies to Logan about getting an abortion. The lie comes out in an argument where Logan insists that Rachel is safe and that he’s taken care of everything for them and their son. She says that loving Logan got her kidnapped and experimented on “because of what you are[a werewolf]”. She reveals that she is still pregnant when she calls him to say there’s a problem with the baby. Logan dies at the end of the episode, having turned into a werewolf to defend Jeremy and Rachel from Aleister. In his last moments, Rachel apologizes for lying about the baby and Logan makes her promise to tell their son everything about him, that he was his dad.

2015 Jane the Virgin (S01 E13, CW)

Jane talks to her mother and grandmother about whether to get an amniotic fluid test (amnio) to check for early signs of illness or health conditions in the child she is carrying. Jane’s mother Xiomara asks if Jane would get an abortion if an amnio detected anything seriously wrong with the baby. Though grandmother Alba makes an exclamation, Jane replies that yes, abortion is part of the question, but she has already decided to carry the pregnancy to term. She decides not to get the amnio and deal with any problems after the birth.

To suggest additions to this timeline, please comment below.